1992 - PG-13 - 102 Mins.
|Director: Ralph Bakshi|
|Producer: Frank Mancuso Jr.|
|Written By: Michael Grais & Mark Victor|
|Starring: Kim Basinger, Gabriel Byrne, Brad Pitt, |
|Review by: Jake Cremins
One of the most surprising things about ‘Annie Hall’ (don’t worry, I’m getting to ‘Cool World’ in a minute) is that it is not at all the movie that was originally made. ‘Annie Hall’ was written and filmed as a murder mystery, with the relationship between the Diane Keaton and Woody Allen characters a subplot to the main action. Apparently, during editing Allen realized that the romance was the best thing about the movie, and the footage was recut and reworked until it became what it is today. It worked splendidly, somehow, and the result won a deserved Best Picture Oscar.
Jack Deebs and Holli Would discuss Euclidean geometry in this scene from 'Cool World.'
‘Cool World’ appears to have gone through a similar process, but with a more tragic outcome. This is a lurching, ungainly Frankenstein’s monster of a film, a collection of movie parts stitched together clumsily by, I sincerely hope, someone other than the original filmmakers. Too bad, because occasionally we get the idea that this might have been pretty good at some point; as it is now, the movie rockets wildly in quality from moment to moment, managing to be alternately clever, sleazy, dazzling, stupid, imaginative, ugly, sexy, funny, and boring, and sometimes all of those at once. At least you can’t accuse it of being predictable.
Gabriel Byrne stars as Jack Deebs, a comic book writer who has just gotten out of prison for killing his wife’s lover, and if you think that has anything to do with anything, you’re sadly mistaken. Trying to adjust to his new life in Las Vegas, he finds himself suddenly being sucked into Cool World, the place he thought he was making up for comic books but which turns out to be a genuine alternate dimension of some sort. Cool World is inhabited by cartoonish characters known as “doodles;” about two of them are buxom women and the hundreds of others look like Mickey Mouse’s deranged in-laws.
Deebs has been brought to Cool World for a purpose: Holli Would, a conniving blond who wants nothing more than to be a “noid” (human), apparently can only do this by having sex with one. Unfortunately this is against the law because it would cause some sort of disaster that remains hazy and vaguely defined, and so there is also Frank (Brad Pitt), a man who was accidentally transported into Cool World in the 1940s and has since become a police officer whose sole duty is to prevent noid/doodle intercourse.
However, Holli is unstoppable (I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that Deebs just got out of prison), and so they eventually do have sex, which turns Holli into Kim Basinger. That’s pretty much where the movie and the plot part ways, abruptly leaving the rest of the running time to Holli’s quest for the “Spike of Power,” which is on top of a casino and does…something. Having seen the Spike do its thing, I still couldn’t really tell you what happens or why. At any rate, Holli as a human being has by now become so thoroughly grating and repellent, thanks to one of Basinger’s very worst performances, that we really couldn’t care less why she wants the Spike of Power as long as she doesn’t sing “Let’s Make Love” with Frank Sinatra Jr. again.
Among fans of director Ralph Bakshi, the rumors about this movie are legion. Bakshi started it in the late 1980s and didn’t get to finish it until ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ was a big hit. Bakshi’s original script was about Holli having a homicidal half-doodle, half-human child by Deebs. Bakshi has a four-hour director’s cut hidden away in his house, and will never release it. Whatever the case, it’s obvious that ‘Cool World’ met with some serious trouble at some point, mostly in the editing room. My guess is that a filmmaker who made his career on animated films for adults like ‘Fritz the Cat,’ ‘Heavy Traffic’ and ‘Coonskin’ (rated X, X and R, respectively), and has just made a film where the story revolves around whether characters could, will, should, can and did have sex with one another, is not going to be much interested in getting a PG-13 rating. However, a canny studio would know that a PG-13 would mean bored teenagers at the mall could just walk right in and see it without any interference from adult guardians, thereby boosting ticket sales. Paramount, no doubt, thought this was a great idea and happily tested and marketed and box-office-forecasted the movie until it was dead.
And so we get all kinds of clues in the editing, which is choppy and seemingly arbitrary, that this once was a movie for grown-ups but has now been cut to pieces for the below-17 crowd (if you see this on a double bill with ‘The Pick-Up Artist,’ these symptoms will become wearily familiar). Dialogue is redubbed to remove profanity, scenes exist for no other purpose than to be something to cut away to when the main action gets too explicit, and the climactic sex scene—around which the entire movie revolves, remember—consists mostly of a shot from the waist up of a fully clothed Holli, moaning and moving around a little bit. (If you squint, you can almost see the animator’s hand frantically drawing her dress back on.) Ironically, this makes everything seem sleazier than it really is; it’s one thing to make a movie about a sexpot whose cleavage is constantly threatening to bust loose from her literally painted-on outfits, but it’s another to make it so obvious, at all times, that the movie has been crassly designed to be just tame enough for kids to be able to get into the theater, while leaving enough heavy breathing to use in the commercials.
So, with no plot, no characters and (let’s be honest) no sex to keep us interested, all that’s left is the animation, which is actually imaginative enough that there were long stretches when I almost didn’t care about how bad everything else was. Even as the movie falls apart around his ears, Bakshi manages to include all kinds of engagingly bizarre visuals that hint at what might have been; Cool World itself is an insane and dangerous-looking place in which cute bunny rabbits shoot craps and characters chase each other around the frame with axes and guns. There is honestly never a moment, no matter how worthless the scene itself, when there isn’t something interesting going on visually as long as the movie is in Cool World. The finale includes scenes with characters changing from people to strange cartoon creatures and back again, in a series of shots that are kind of dazzling, even though we couldn’t care less about them in story terms. And the ending is this movie’s weird version of a last-minute reshoot, as the actors disappear altogether and we’re treated to something that seems like a satirical version of Bakshi’s “Mighty Mouse” TV show. That the ending is a desperate replacement is obvious, but that it is an energetic cartoon is a bonus. Which, I guess, is pretty much true for the whole movie.